In addition to her upcoming publication linking Internet use to decreases in depression in older adults, Dr

And how to search for people, and all kinds of good stuff

Cotten and her team of UAB graduate students led 300 older adults in computer training courses, setting out to discover whether information and communication technologies (ICTs) would allow individuals to „transcend social and spatial barriers,” allowing residents at the living communities being studied to enhance their social networks and feel a greater sense of connection to the world at large. In a presentation at last November’s Annual Scientific Meeting on Aging in New Orleans, Cotten presented her study of 15 assisted and independent living communities, which were randomly divided into three different arms of the study.

The ICT group started their computer classes learning the most basic skills: turning the computer on, logging in, opening and closing programs. They later moved on to email, learning to search and evaluate information online, social networking, and how to use sites like Hulu, YouTube, and Google Earth — a favorite among older adults, who enjoy checking up on their old homes and neighborhoods. The mean age of the participants was 82.5 years, and the average time spent in an assisted living community was 3.25 years. Cotten and her team used field notes, focus group data, observations, and five surveys distributed to participants over the course of a year to evaluate the results of the study.

For many participants, it wasn’t their first time using a computer. „I had a computer back in ’98,” said Goodykoontz. „I had taught myself by trial and error; I thought [the class] would be a good chance to learn from a professional.” Fellow participant Vivian Mathews said that thought she had already owned a computer — „bought one when everyone bought one; it was the thing to do,” she says — she saw the classes as an opportunity to explore the wealth of information her computer could provide. „I learned more about the Internet and how to do email — those were the important things. „

The study yielded surprising results; looking at numbers alone, survey results from the ICT intervention group showed increases in stress and anxiety levels, and feeling „more limited in work and other activities due to stress.” The other two groups showed either a slight decrease or no change. However, when asked about perceived world size, the ICT group showed a significant increase, providing comments saying they „no longer feel left behind,” and „the world seems bigger noiva ArmГЄnia.”

Cotten spent the last year researching the impact that the Internet and social networking sites have on seniors living in assisted and independent living centers, particularly in terms of their social relationships and quality of life

Apart from the large change in perceived world size, there was little change in quality of life from pre- to post-intervention, partly because eight weeks may be too little time and also because of the realization on the part of the participants that their memory may not be as robust as it once was, Cotten says. „One of the things we speculate is that being in this technology class makes people realize the wealth of information that they don’t know,” she explains. Even spread over eight weeks, the bi-weekly 90-minute class and additional office hours can take its toll — „there’s a cognitive burden that’s going on there,” says Cotten.

The qualitative results — the testimonials and engagement from the participants, and the enthusiasm for continued training and classes — suggest a different story.

When asked „How has the Internet changed your life in any way?” — the feedback was surprisingly poignant. One participant responded saying, „We feel like we’ve joined the human race,” while another said the computer class was the best thing she’d done since her husband died. One participant’s answer was particularly staggering: „We’re not as close to the grave as we thought.”